These area women are carving up the ice and skating over stereotypes.
Leslie Jeng doesn’t rest on Sundays.
She’s the mother of three hockey players—two boys and one girl—and two of them have to be at different practices at the same time. She gets dinner ready with her husband, who takes one kid while she drops off the other. After helping her daughter get dressed and ready to hit the ice, Jeng hops back in the car, rushes to Belmont and gets to the rink with just five minutes to spare before her own practice begins.
Leslie Jeng isn’t just a hockey mom. She’s a mom who plays hockey, and she’s one of a number of area skaters changing the face of women’s sports.
“We always focus on work and the kids,” says Jeng, who’s the director of research at the Private Capital Research Institute, “and this is something that’s just for us. We get together and focus on ourselves. There’s nothing like it.”
Jeng is a member of the South Shore Women’s Hockey League, an organization of senior women’s hockey players. Anyone over 18 years old qualifies as “senior,” but the SSWHL welcomes all ages. Women in their thirties, forties, fifties and even sixties lace up their skates and hit the ice in search of something they won’t find on a Stairmaster.
“It’s so different than going to a gym,” explains Jennifer Miles, a yoga teacher, co-chair of the Hydrocephalus Community Network and mother of three boys. “Just to be able to get out on the ice and skate is an accomplishment. I might not even touch the puck during a scrimmage, but I never feel like a loser. I feel strong. I feel like I’m part of a team.”
Underneath the equipment, they’re a group of successful women from diverse backgrounds— doctors, lawyers, creatives and professors. But with sticks in hand, they’re all hockey players. The ice is an equalizer that brings together women of different ages and skill levels for a unique challenge. Anne Sommers Welch, creative director and producer at Beyond Fab Creative, explains, “It’s fulfilling and it’s fun and it’s engaging, what you can do at this stage in your life. Women who are Harvard professors, who are doctors … here they are, playing hard hockey.”
Most exercise programs marketed towards women are designed to fix bodies—to tone, shrink and rewind the clock. But these hockey players don’t work out to correct physical imperfections. In fact, they’re learning how to love their bodies for how powerful they are on the ice. “Of course I wish I had more muscles,” laughs Jeng. “But really, all that matters is being a good teammate.” Miles adds that she loves discovering new things her body can do, including developing precision in her footwork skills. “When we’re on the ice, I’m not thinking, like, ‘What do you do for work?’” she says. “And I’m not thinking about what my body looks like. I’m thinking about how I can get to where I need to be faster than someone else!”
Women come to the SSWHL from many different paths. Some of the highly skilled skaters played ice hockey in college, while others didn’t learn to skate until they were in their sixties. Susie Mees Longfield, a former high school English teacher and co-founder of the Longfield Family Foundation, explains that it all began when a group of hockey moms were chatting after dropping off their kids at practice. “We were going around saying, ‘You play hockey? I used to play!’ or, ‘I played, but not very well,’” she recalls. “We were like, ‘Why do our kids get to play and we don’t?’”
Longfield is a self-described “wannabe athlete” who played sports all through high school and college. “I joke with my kids that I was a Division 1 JV benchwarmer in field hockey,” she laughs. For her, women’s sports are an opportunity for competition—but also for mutual respect and camaraderie.
Welch, who played roller hockey for years before joining the SSWHL, shares these feelings. “It’s kind of intimidating, and you have to be prepared to be vulnerable. The women are awesome.”
They aren’t just busting stereotypes for themselves. As hockey moms, they’re setting positive examples for their kids. Welch says that once, during school vacation week, a group of moms brought their daughters to a scrimmage. “It was really cool to see these generations skating and kicking butt together,” she recalls. “I’ll never forget it.”
Maybe, just like their moms, those daughters will continue to step onto the ice for many years to come.
This story originally appeared in the September/October print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 240 locations throughout Cambridge and just beyond its borders or by subscription.